100 Films @ 10: Best Picture Winners of the Past Decade

It’s moviedom’s glitziest night of the year this evening, as the best and brightest of Hollywood and the wider movie world (well, some of it) gather in L.A. for the 89th Academy Awards — aka the Oscars! How many awards will La La Land win? How many anti-Trump speeches will there be? It’s all to play for!

To mark the auspicious occasion, today’s celebratory top ten looks back over the last decade of Best Picture winners and asks, “which is the best Best Picture?” And ranks all the others too, because it wouldn’t be much of a top ten otherwise, would it?

10
No Country for Old Men

I’ve long ago lost the source to cite it, but I once read a critic describe No Country as the only worthy Best Picture winner of that decade. Well, obviously I disagree. I have mixed feelings about the Coen brothers’ work most of the time, and this is no exception. I just find it a deeply unsatisfying film.
What should have won? The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is better than either of the so-called Westerns that were nominated. But of the actual nominees? Maybe Atonement.

9
Birdman

At least I found Birdman less expressly irritating than No Country, but it does frequently feel like it’s more concerned with showing off than… well, anything else. It’s obviously tailor-made to appeal to Oscar voters, particularly the dominant acting branch, so from that point of view it’s no surprise it won. Kind of sad the Oscars can be reduced to such observations, isn’t it?
What should have won? A lot of people thought it should be Boyhood, which is a worthy pick, and Whiplash remains very popular, though my favourite of the nominees was The Grand Budapest Hotel.

8
The King’s Speech

There’s an element of heritage drama to The King’s Speech that mean some will always find it inherently objectionable — generally cinephile types, while wider audiences love that kind of thing. I mean, how else to you explain Downton Abbey’s phenomenal success? King’s Speech works in spite of that thanks to its trio of lead performances, not least Colin Firth as the can-very-much-wait-to-be-King struggling with a stammer.
What should have won? The Social Network. Fincher 4eva.

7
Slumdog Millionaire

Maybe it’s rich of me to berate No Country for its reliance on fate and chance while elevating Slumdog up the list, but in the former it feels intrinsic while here it’s just a structural choice. I did object to its regular branding as “feel-good” though, because it’s a pretty grim film on the whole, but a strong cast of child actors and Danny Boyle’s lively direction keep it compelling.
What should have won? Okay, I retract that “Fincher 4eva” — not Benjamin Button. I actually still haven’t seen any of the other nominees from 2008, so I guess Slumdog deserves it.

6
The Departed

It must be almost ten whole years since I watched The Departed, and for most of that time I’ve been meaning to revisit it (and to see the original Hong Kong film that inspired it). I confess that my overriding memory isn’t really to do with the film itself and more to do with the fact I thought United 93 was better and more deserving of honours. But it was not to be — the stars had finally aligned for Scorsese. Anyway, The Departed should be my kind of movie, so maybe one day I’ll get round to re-watching it and it can escape that shadow. That’s why it’s only in the middle of this list.
What should have won? United 93 wasn’t actually nominated for Picture, so… maybe Little Miss Sunshine?

5
Spotlight

The most recent winner rejects filmmaking flash in favour of unfussy storytelling to relate the powerful tale of a group of journalists uncovering a huge cover-up and the wide-reaching conspiracy that maintained it — and it’s all true! Criticisms that Spotlight didn’t focus enough on the victims are probably misplaced: this isn’t a film about what the journalists uncovered, it’s about the act of the journalists uncovering it. In the era of so-called ‘fake news’, it’s more relevant than ever.
What should have won? Either Mad Max: Fury Road or The Revenant would’ve been very worthy choices in my view.

4
Argo

Ben Affleck’s spy thriller is an oddity in modern Oscar winners, what with it being an entertaining genre-ish movie rather than a worthy dramatic picture. It is a true story, though, so it ticks that box. Argo lacks the heft of most Great Movies, but makes up for it with some amusing Hollywood satire and tense undercover thrills.
What should have won? From 2012’s nominees I’m torn between Django Unchained and Lincoln. The latter is more Oscar-y.

3
The Hurt Locker

If we’re talking about tension, The Hurt Locker knocks Argo into a cocked hat. Well, what better situation to elicit nail-biting nervousness than a bomb disposal unit in a fraught war zone? What makes it more than just a series of exciting vignettes is the character throughline, where it meditates on the idea that some people can find war to be as addictive as a drug.
What should have won? I was a big fan of Inglourious Basterds. This was the year District 9 was nominated, which I’ve still not seen, so maybe that?

2
The Artist

A rare foreign winner at the Oscars… though it was backed by the Weinsteins and the brief bits of dialogue are in English, so it’s not that foreign (so that’s OK then!) The Artist is part tribute to the wonder of the silent era, part charming romantic comedy, and all an ode to the brilliance of Uggie the dog. I think it’s the most readily likeable winner of the last decade.
What should have won? Well, I liked War Horse, but otherwise The Artist looks a pretty fair pick.

1
12 Years a Slave

The powerful true story of an educated, respected, free black man who was abducted into slavery, 12 Years a Slave is obviously a tough movie in theme, but what makes it bearable is the quality of the filmmaking — particularly the great performances from the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender, and the classical but effective direction of Steve McQueen. I don’t think it’s the best movie made in the last decade, but I think it’s probably the best one that won Best Picture.
What should have won? 12 Years a Slave is great ‘n’ all, but, c’mon, Gravity.

How many of those have found a spot on one of my year-end top tens?

None.

Tomorrow: great shorts.

The Past Month on TV #14

After last month’s bumper-bonus TV review (with three major series to review, plus a couple of big specials), the past four weeks have been pretty quiet. I’ve certainly watched stuff, just very little of it feels worthy of comment.

Nonetheless, there was this:

The Missing (Series 2)
The Missing series 2While everybody’s busy fawning over Happy Valley (never watched it) and Line of Duty (series one was quite good; I need to catch up), I reckon The Missing is one of the best dramas British TV has produced in a good long while. The second series (which aired towards the end of last year over here and, coincidentally, started last Sunday in the US) is every bit the equal of the first, and possibly even better — and considering how good the first was, that really is an achievement.

Featuring a brand-new case (what with the first one having been resolved), sibling screenwriters Harry and Jack Williams have this time made their story and scripts even tighter, partly in awareness of the scrutiny fans exacted upon the first run. What that means in practice is every mystery has an answer; nothing is thrown away, nothing is a mistake. That’s even more impressive given some of the audacious twists they pull off, which I shan’t spoil here.

As well as the enjoyable plot theatrics, the emotional lives of the characters are as on point as ever. Maybe none are quite as effective as the toll exerted on James Nesbitt’s character in series one, but the cast is arguably more well-rounded beyond a sole lead. Talking of which, the only major returning character, Tchéky Karyo’s detective Julien Baptiste, is even more central this time, which can only be a good thing because he’s a top character expertly brought to life. The writers agree: while a third series of The Missing is contingent on them having a good idea for a story, they’ve talked about potentially conjuring up a Baptiste spin-off instead.

I’ve recently been thinking about my favourite TV series of the last ten years. There are rather a lot of contenders, considering the golden age of “peak TV” we’re currently living through. Frankly, I’m not sure if The Missing will quite crack the top ten, but it’s definitely in the conversation.

The British Academy Film Awards 2017
The BAFTAs 2017aka the BAFTAs, obv. I have to say, I thought it was a pretty dull show this year. For starters, Cirque du Soleil — impressive, but what’s it got to do with the last year in film? Why did no one write Stephen Fry some good material for his opening monologue? Then there were the awards themselves. Short on surprises — the big prizes went where expected, the smaller ones erred British. None of the American winners are committed to giving a decent speech here because they’re saving it all for the Oscars. Well, apart from the Kubo guy — he knows his award is going to Zootropolistopia next fortnight and so he gave us his best stuff. Good on him.

Also watched…
  • Death in Paradise Series 6 Episodes 2-6 — Caribbean murder.
  • Elementary Season 5 Episodes 4-9 — Sherlockian murder.
  • The Flash Season 3 Episodes 10-11 / Arrow Season 5 Episodes 9-11 — not much need to investigate the murders here, as the heroes are doing them half the time.
  • Who Dares Wins Series 9 Episodes 5-6 — they’ve had to cut out the National Lottery bits now they’ve dropped that from TV, and they’re shunting it around the schedule like an unloved heirloom they’ve committed to display but really rather wouldn’t… and it is a kind of terrible show, really… but the lists, man, they keep me coming back. #addict

    Things to Catch Up On
    LegionIt must be a slow time for TV — I don’t even feel like I’ve been missing all that much. Well, X-Men spin-off Legion recently started and I haven’t got round to that yet, and 24 spin-off / sequel / continuation 24: Legacy started in the UK last night, so I’ve barely had a chance to watch it (I’ll have something to say about that next month, then). So I really have no excuse for not watching Westworld yet. Oh, and I need to get on with starting my long-planned re-watch of Twin Peaks, because there are only…

    94 days until new Twin Peaks.

    Next month… the final series of Broadchurch begins.

  • And the Oscar for Best Picture… of 2007…

    You may’ve noticed that it’s the 2010 Oscars this Sunday (technically Monday over here), finally bringing an end to the tale of movies from 2009 (Empire have their awards a while later, which is pushing into the pointless — OK, they’re never going to become an Oscar-predictor by moving up in the schedule, like the BAFTAs aimed for with their pre-Oscar move; but how many people still care about last year by the time we’re a quarter through the next?)

    It seems appropriate timing, then, to finally publish this group of reviews for (most of) 2007’s Best Picture nominees (a ‘feature’ I’ve had in the planning for well over a year — oops). Yes, it’s two ceremonies ago, but it’s the best I’ve got.

    So, in alphabetical order… with the exception of the winner… which, by coincidence, puts them in reverse viewing order for me… Anyway, here are the reviews:

    2010 #25
    Juno

    “There’s underage sex, swearing, numerous displays of teen independence, divorce, love of rock music and horror films… All that’s missing from a Middle American Mom’s worst nightmare is drugs (there’s no violence either, but we know them there yankees love a bit of that).” Read more…

    2009 #87
    Michael Clayton

    “The obvious point of comparison is Damages, the excellent TV series that also concerns such high-profile big-business lawsuits, but… Damages sustains it for over 9 hours, replete with cliffhangers and plot twists so far beyond what Clayton’s straightforward story has to offer that Gilroy isn’t even dreaming of being that good.” Read more…

    2009 #7
    There Will Be Blood

    “not to say it’s a bad film, but it is at times a baffling one… I can’t help but wonder if I missed something crucial along the way because, even after two and a half hours, I had no real idea what the film was about.” Read more…

    And the winner, of course, was…

    2009 #5
    No Country for Old Men

    “it’s really about Fate, randomness, chance. Some clearly think this brilliant; I remain unconvinced. It lacks satisfaction. Maybe that’s real life — no, that is real life: random and lacking closure and satisfaction. But this isn’t real life, it’s a movie” Read more…



    Of the five Best Picture nominees from 2007, the only one I gave five stars was Atonement. As the only one I watched around the time, such a score may’ve been boosted by BAFTA hype and its Britishness, while perhaps the likes of No Country have, conversely, been ruined by their extended hype.

    On balance, the film I most enjoyed from the line up was Juno; but does that make it best? Depends what you’re looking for, I suppose.

    The ‘Best Pictures’ of the Noughties

    With 2010’s Oscar nominees due to be announced tomorrow sometime (I believe it’s “OMG why so early?!” if you’re in the States and “during the day” in Blighty’s time zone, but that’s all I know), I thought I’d have a look back at how I’ve done seeing the Best Picture nominees from the noughties. Feel free to play along. (Not that I’m actually going to list them.)

    Such a task therefore includes 2000’s nominations… all of which are, of course, technically from the last decade… but tish, that’s enough of technicalities! This is end-of-the-decade-lists year, goddamit, and I will have my Oscar Best Pictures List! So ner.

    Things don’t get off to an auspicious start unfortunately: despite having a whole 10 years to catch them, I’ve still only seen three of 2000’s nominations — and one of those was only a bit over a year ago. Maybe I will start counting from 2001’s lot after all…

    Except that, whatever tomorrow’s nods bring, I’m not likely to have seen many of them, even with that potentially awkward increase to 10 nominees (10×5 is such a neater equation than 9×5+1×10, somehow. Anyway…) Taking RopeofSilicon’s prediction list as an indicator because, well, it’s the only one I’ve stumbled across, I’ve seen a measly two of the top ten… and it only goes up to three if you broaden it to his top 21. Whatever comes about tomorrow, I won’t’ve seen many. I need to get to the cinema more.

    So back to the ‘real’ noughties, then. (Still with me? Oh, someone is! I’ll try to speed this up anyway…)

    I’ve seen all the films from the 2001, 2006 and 2007 awards. I even saw four of 2006’s in the cinema (gasp!) When I finally get round to watching my DVD of Juno, 2008 will join that list (if anyone happens to be wondering why reviews of There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men are now over a year late… well, that’s why).

    There are, in total, 14 nominees I’ve not seen — including two winners. Neither A Beautiful Mind nor Million Dollar Baby have inspired me enough to go out of my way to see them, particularly as the former especially seems to get lumped in with the likes of Shakespeare in Love in the annals of less-than-deserving winners. Hey, Eastwood’s effort is on TV this week — twice on the same night, even — so maybe I’ll finally sit down with it.

    The full 14 I’ve not seen are:

    2000: The Cider House Rules, The Insider. 2002: A Beautiful Mind, In the Bedroom. 2003: The Hours, The Pianist. 2004: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Seabiscuit. 2005: Million Dollar Baby. 2008: Juno. 2009: Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader.

    And I have three of them on DVD too…

    There we have it, anyway. As a ‘Film Fan’ it feels somehow wrong not to have seen all of the films considered to be The Very Best Of That Year at the highest-profile, most-prestigious (theoretically) film awards do. But — as that “(theoretically)” shows and as we all really know — the Oscars are far from the be-all-and-end-all of what are genuinely the best films of any given year (though I’m sure there must be some where they actually got it right). Besides, it’s all a matter of opinion anyway, making any such list wholly arbitrary.

    Still, I do like a good list, and this one has 14 more things to tick off it. Maybe I’ll have got there by 2020…


    2015 update:

    Halfway to 2020, and how have I got on? Well, I’ve since seen five of the 14. That’s not that good, is it? Anyway, here are my reviews of those five:

  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Juno
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button